How to Debate Effectively!

We see panelists on TV screaming at each other every day, we go online to find people ripping each other’s words on every single political or social post.

Suddenly everyone has taken the freedom of speech way too seriously and somehow, they think Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin is the place to show this, to voice their opinions, to discard and call out people against their ideology, to make a difference (I am not sure how this is actually helping but sure, cheers to this freedom!)

Debates, arguments, discussions are actually wonderful tools if used effectively.

What is debate?

It is to bring on the table an idea, one side agrees and another disagrees with it. It is a model for structured disagreement which is mutually respectful and assumes a genuine desire to persuade and be persuaded.

I think we ignore the last part completely.

Affirmatives for a successful, effective and meaningful Debate or argument

1. Humility to be open to being persuaded

When I was in school, I was trained for debates, I was taught how to argue, convince, put my thoughts across clearly, to cut short someone effectively and make your point, more or less how to Win! In this whole process, no one ever told me to listen to the other side. And now to think about it the other side must be taught the exact same thing. Here we are arguing on a point and none of us is listening to the other side. Now it makes sense, why the loudest person always won the debates! It was never about who had better arguments.

But don’t you think, this was something taught to all of us, and that’s what we carry on with us to adulthood. We don’t care what the other person is saying. But then what is the point of getting into the debate, if no one is ready to get persuaded. Don’t you think these arguments and debates make no sense then?

We become attached to our ideas, we start to believe that we own them and that they own us. We feel defensive if a colleague talks ill about our political leader, even if the colleague has a valid point. We feel defiled and humiliated if someone has a good point against our ideology.

This can change only when we find the humility to accept that we can be wrong sometimes, that there is a possibility that our idea is not perfect, suddenly the arguments and the debates will start making more sense. Then all of us won’t be debating for our selfish reasons but for what is best for purpose on the table. May be then not the best person will win, but the best idea will win.

2. Find a common ground, focus on convincing someone rather than wining.

For a long period of time, I always thought that the most successful debaters, really excellent persuaders include people who are great at going to extremes. They should have some tantalizing ability to make the polarizing palatable.

But in reality, the opposite is true.

The greatest debaters are the ones who are the people who are good at convincing others by finding common ground rather than going on extremes and making the group shift. They accept and find a shared reality, a common point to start with by making the other person listen to them and build on it. They make space for the other person to accept their argument with logic and respect rather than showing pride and humiliating them.

I don’t think the opposing party is ever going to accept our proposal even if they are convinced by our super-intelligent facts, figures and logic if we have made it into a “Ego Game” or a “Big Deal”. Remember that the goal is not to win the argument but to persuade the other person into seeing the picture your way.

Sure conflict is there of course — that’s why there is a debate. However, to win any argument, finding common ground is the first and the most important step.

3. Debating ideas rather than identities of the individuals debating

I have often seen, when as debater we start losing or feel overwhelmed with opposing arguments, we resort to attacking the identity of the person making the argument rather than the argument itself. Pointing out their individual past behaviors and bringing in historical data on how the person had reacted in a similar situation and try to indicate hypocrisy somehow. The value of the argument is lost there, the argument did not choose the debater, why let go of that idea just because of the person who is taking its stand?

However, we are all guilty of doing it all the time, whether it is discarding a policy decision because it has come from NDA or UPA, coloring the scheme as leftist or rightish just because it has come from a particular party, dismissing suggestions because it came from region we don’t value much, rejecting proposal just because it came from a particular person. So many times in corporates, ideas are dismissed just because it came from one person, but when the same idea is pitched by an important person, it is being heard and applauded. This is the bias we all carry without realizing it.

I think we should all try this — Invite ideas and suggestions with anonymity, so that we leave out the personal bias and look at the suggestion on sheer merit. We will realize that a lot of these amazing ideas are from someone who might have a hard time getting the ear of a policymaker or someone who because of their identity might not be taken entirely seriously. Folks who answer the phones, ground staff who interact with your actual clients, assistants who manage calendars, representatives from agencies who aren’t always trusted.

Only then we will understand the importance of separating identity from any argument.

I would like to leave you with these thoughts for making any argument or debate effective

  1. Humility to accept the possibility of being wrong
  2. Focus on convincing someone rather than crushing them over with your win.
  3. Debating ideas rather than identities of the individuals making the argument.
  4. Face to Face — rather than emails or social media

Stop talking and start listening, Stop dismissing and to start persuading. To stop shutting down and to start opening our minds.

Happy Debating!



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